BIBLE HILL, N.S. – Stephanie Barkley has come a long way and she knows a thing or two about mental health issues.
“When I stopped using mental illness as an excuse and started using it as a gift, that is when my life took off,” said Barkley.
“Never in a million years did I think I would be sitting in an office I own, talking about how I made it. So why not do something to keep the conversation about mental health rolling and not let it be this once-a-year thing.”
Diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) at the age of 17, she has dealt with the stigma and struggles of mental illness from all sides.
“I felt crazy, different and felt I didn’t fit in,” said Barkley, of dealing with her illness as a teen.
“It made it hard to have friends or relationships, at an age where those things began to matter the most. I felt I was unique from everyone else.”
Now, after pulling herself out of many lows, she has become a successful business owner and wants to give back to the system that saved her life.
To provide support for a new mental health program in Colchester County, Barkley and her company, Wallace & Barkley Auto Sales, have started the Wallace & Barkley Mental Health Initiative, which will host monthly events including yoga, walks, social nights and painting sessions.
“The reason we are doing these specific activities is because they are all part of taking care of your personal mental health,” said Barkley.
“Walking, taking care of yourself and even talking to others are beneficial to your mental health. We are lucky as a company to have this building, so we can provide a space for people to do these things.”
Partnering with the Canadian Mental Health Association, the auto sales company will be gathering donations from the events, which will go toward the CMHA’s Branching Out Program.
“The CMHA wants to remove the stigma around getting help,” said Barkley.
“A lot of people, when they think of going to the hospital to get help, usually think ‘Oh, I’m crazy, I’m sick.’ So the CMHA want to build a new facility that has a more supportive environment for people seeking help.”
Barkley knows the struggle of getting help all too well.
After being diagnosed with BPD and spending time in a Yarmouth mental hospital as a teen, she faced bullying and ridicule from her peers, pushing her further away from getting the help she needed.
In her 20s, while lying in the Intensive Care Unit after surviving a suicide attempt, Barkley finally decided to embrace the programs available to her and took control of her life, with a little help.
“If it wasn’t for those programs, I don’t think I would be here today,” she said.
“We only ever hear about the bad when it comes to our mental health system, but because of it I’m here today.
“We all need to remember the people running our mental health programs are humans too. They care about what they do, but they have guidelines they need to follow just like everyone else.”
While the events will be used as a way to get donations for the Branching Out Program, she hopes it will provide some with the comfort and courage needed to get the help they need.
“The stigma around getting help is still out there,” said Barkley.
“It doesn’t matter how many Facebook posts you like and share, or how many texts you send during Bell Let’s Talk, the stigma is still there and it is still bad.”
The new initiative is slated to start in November and the company is working on plans to also provide support to mental health through bumper stickers and social media campaigns.